THE NEW YORK TIMES. TUESDAY. APRIL 2S. ISIS
The Editorial Notebook
Tne controversy over “Perjury,”
Alan Weinstein’s new book about the
Hiss-Chambers case, has given fresh
work to the cottage industry dedicated
to manufacturing theories of conspir-
acy for the convenience of Alger Hiss.
Mr. Weinstein, a historian, studied
newly released F.B.I. files as well as
defense materials, and concluded that
the jury that convicted Alger Hiss was
right: he had lied about his relation-
ship with Whittaker Chambers and had
passed State Department documents to
that courier for the Russians, those
v/ho have been committed to the Hiss
cause for three decades were suscep-
tible to evidence, this imposing, work
would end the matter, but that is un-
To hold to the innocence of Alger
Hiss requires a belief that he was the
victim of a psycho-political conspiracy
fomented by Whittaker Chambers,
Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover and
the li.t;e. The Conspiracy Against Alger
Hiss, a perennial favorite in the trade,
is not the only such mode! still in pro- '
duction. The Conspiracy Against Julius
and Ethel Rosenberg, a companion
piece, is also available at selected out-
Our conspiracy designers begin their .
production process . with a firm faith '
that wherever there is a Red-hunter,
t-here are no Reds, and that the C.lJt.
and the F.B.I. ^ve a monopoly on the
world’s dirty tncks. From here on, the
production line practically runs itself.
Any observer who concludes that so-
and-so was a Communist or spy must
have ulterior motives; prosecution wit-
nesses must be either vena! or mad.
Circumstantial evidence is, well, cir-
cumstantial. If the evidence begins to
grow oppressive, it can be explained
as Forgery by Typewriter. Most im-
portant, any rumor, hint, supposition,
any possibility becomes raw material
for construction of an over-arching
conspiracy. Imagination is encouraged.
There are related models produced
by associated enterprises: The Conspir-
acy Against John F. Kennedy and the
Conspiracy Against Martin Luther
King. The left’s taste in culprits has
never been entirely satisfied by Lee
- Harvey Oswald or James Earl Ray,
and elaborate theories involving rich
. Texans, Cuban Emigres and, of course,
the C.I.A., are hauled out seasonally
for test runs. The right wing, too, has
its favorite conspiracy theories, which
attribute all manner of witchcraft to
rad-libs. But these have been -m.uted
since the decline of Spiro Agnew.
_ .What can account for the readiness
,of educated people to swallow any
sort of farrago rather than accept the
overwhelming evidence that Alger Hiss
was and remains a liar? In part, the ex-
planation may lie in the Manichean po-
I’.tical mentality found on both ends of
the political spectrum; it wallows in^
tales that pit shadowy powers against
a single right-thinking or left-feeiing
individual. For veterans of the Alger'
Hiss brigade to give up on him now :
not only wouid be desertion; it would i
call into doubt a deeply held view of '
the way the world works. Lifetime
faiths are at stake.
But an official conspiracy of the pro-
I»rtions needed to frame Alger Hiss or
the Rosenfaergs, to say nothing of kill-
ing a President, wouid have had to in-
volve scores of people, some of whom
would by now assuredly have written
their memoirs. If this were a nation
where official secrets could be well
kept. Richard NLxon might still be
President (As a matter of fact the
tack taken by Mr. Nixon’s defenders to
steer free of Watergate was not so
different from that of the Hiss forces;
one rebuttal, remember, had to do with
an anti-Ni.xon cabal within the C.IA.)
Alas, Watergate may have created a ■
new and receptive audience for con-
spiracy theoriss_.It will doubtless be.
served. For those who have dedicated
themselves to Alger Hiss, what choice
is there after 30 years but to keep im-
provising conspiracies or concede that
they have been conspirators in a farce? ^